November 16, 2012
One of the more optimal paths to achieving an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic as we know it is through the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act in this country. We are presented with a critical opportunity, particularly through the expansion of Medicaid, to increase access to HIV prevention, care and treatment. The evidence suggests this will reduce the number of new HIV infections and improve health outcomes for those living with HIV. This approach would also move the needle in creating greater parity in healthcare access, and improve the overall health outcomes for people living with HIV. In the U.S. South this change would quite literally save lives. Unfortunately, the southern region far too often lags behind the rest of the country on healthcare issues and certainly in HIV/AIDS treatment and care. Click here
To assist our grantees and partners in their advocacy efforts for Medicaid expansion, the AIDS United Field Organizing team is hosting a series of trainings. I led the first of these events in South Carolina with the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Care Crisis Task Force (SCHACCTF). SCHACCTF is a statewide coalition of individuals, organizations, and other stakeholders committed to HIV/AIDS advocacy in South Carolina. The goal of the training was skills building among our stakeholders on how to educate their constituency and plan their advocacy efforts in the state.
The training began with a general overview of the Affordable Care Act and how it would impact the HIV/AIDS community in South Carolina. I shared with the group how the majority of HIV/AIDS care and treatment funding is currently through Medicaid. We talked about the relationship between the Ryan White CARE Act (RWCA) and Medicaid. I explained the RWCA is scheduled to be reauthorized before September 30, 2013. We discussed how implementation of the Affordable Care Act, especially Medicaid expansion, would impact the RWCA reauthorization potentially helping reduce the strain on RWCA funding. Whereas, the Ryan White CARE Act has to be reauthorized every 3 5 years, the benefit of Medicaid expansion, if fully implemented, is a permanent solution. This would create a more sustainable solution for access to healthcare for people with HIV.
We discussed the potential if Medicaid expansion is fully implemented we could end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Greater access to HIV care and treatment would reduce the number of new infections each year and create better health outcomes for people living with HIV. Ensuring HIV positive people receive an early diagnosis, get linked to care, have access to drugs and receive assistance in managing adherence and sustaining their health and the health of their partners will lead to an AIDS free generation.
I also provided an overview of the Essential Health Benefits component of the Affordable Care Act. States will have wide latitude in choosing 10 Essential Health Benefits categories so the minimum benefits provided from state to state will look different. Thus, the minimum benefits in California might look different than the minimum benefits in Georgia.
Developing an educational public message was an important part of the training. Participants worked together in small groups and developed messages related to Medicaid expansion advocacy. The cost effectiveness of Medicaid expansion both in terms of the federal resources that would be used to support implementation and cost effectiveness of keeping people healthier resonated most with the group. Several participants volunteered to share their messaging with the group.
Moving forward with advocacy in the state, the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Care/Crisis Task Force is hosting an Advocacy Day breakfast early next year. The group will continue advocating elected officials and key figures on the expansion of Medicaid in South Carolina. The AIDS United Field Team will continue hosting Medicaid expansion trainings over the next year. In December we are hosting events in Louisiana and Virginia.
Charles Stephens is a regional organizer at AIDS United.